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  • Most of the time, art and science stare at each other

  • across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.

  • There is great confusion when the two look at each other.

  • Art, of course, looks at the world through the psyche,

  • the emotions -- the unconscious at times -- and of course the aesthetic.

  • Science tends to look at the world through the rational, the quantitative --

  • things that can be measured and described --

  • but it gives art a terrific context of understanding.

  • In the Extreme Ice Survey,

  • we're dedicated to bringing those two parts of human understanding together,

  • to merging the art and science

  • to the end of helping us understand nature

  • and humanity's relationship with nature better.

  • Specifically, I as a person

  • who's been a professional nature photographer my whole adult life,

  • am firmly of the belief that photography, video, film

  • have tremendous powers for helping us understand

  • and shape the way we think about nature

  • and about ourselves in relationship to nature.

  • In this project, we're specifically interested, of course, in ice.

  • I'm fascinated by the beauty of it, the mutability of it,

  • the malleability of it,

  • and the fabulous shapes in which it can carve itself.

  • These first images are from Greenland.

  • But ice has another meaning.

  • Ice is the canary in the global coal mine.

  • It's the place where we can see and touch and hear and feel climate change in action.

  • Climate change is a really abstract thing in most of the world.

  • Whether or not you believe in it is based on your sense of

  • is it raining more or is it raining less?

  • Is it getting hotter or is it getting colder?

  • What do the computer models say about this, that and the other thing?

  • All of that, strip it away. In the world of the arctic and alpine environments,

  • where the ice is, it's real and it's present.

  • The changes are happening. They're very visible.

  • They're photographable. They're measurable.

  • 95 percent of the glaciers in the world are retreating or shrinking.

  • That's outside Antarctica.

  • 95 percent of the glaciers in the world are retreating or shrinking,

  • and that's because the precipitation patterns and the temperature patterns are changing.

  • There is no significant scientific dispute about that.

  • It's been observed, it's measured, it's bomb-proof information.

  • And the great irony and tragedy of our time

  • is that a lot of the general public thinks that science is still arguing about that.

  • Science is not arguing about that.

  • In these images we see ice from enormous glaciers,

  • ice sheets that are hundreds of thousands of years old

  • breaking up into chunks, and chunk by chunk by chunk,

  • iceberg by iceberg, turning into global sea level rise.

  • So, having seen all of this in the course of a 30-year career,

  • I was still a skeptic about climate change until about 10 years ago,

  • because I thought the story of climate change was based on computer models.

  • I hadn't realized it was based on concrete measurements

  • of what the paleoclimates -- the ancient climates -- were,

  • as recorded in the ice sheets, as recorded in deep ocean sediments,

  • as recorded in lake sediments, tree rings,

  • and a lot of other ways of measuring temperature.

  • When I realized that climate change was real, and it was not based on computer models,

  • I decided that one day I would do a project

  • looking at trying to manifest climate change photographically.

  • And that led me to this project.

  • Initially, I was working on a National Geographic assignment --

  • conventional, single frame, still photography.

  • And one crazy day, I got the idea that I should --

  • after that assignment was finished --

  • I got the idea that I should shoot in time-lapse photography,

  • that I should station a camera or two at a glacier

  • and let it shoot every 15 minutes, or every hour or whatever

  • and watch the progression of the landscape over time.

  • Well, within about three weeks,

  • I incautiously turned that idea of a couple of time-lapse cameras

  • into 25 time-lapse cameras.

  • And the next six months of my life were the hardest time in my career,

  • trying to design, build and deploy out in the field these 25 time-lapse cameras.

  • They are powered by the sun. Solar panels power them.

  • Power goes into a battery. There is a custom made computer

  • that tells the camera when to fire.

  • And these cameras are positioned on rocks on the sides of the glaciers,

  • and they look in on the glacier from permanent, bedrock positions,

  • and they watch the evolution of the landscape.

  • We just had a number of cameras out on the Greenland Ice Sheet.

  • We actually drilled holes into the ice, way deep down below the thawing level,

  • and had some cameras out there for the past month and a half or so.

  • Actually, there's still a camera out there right now.

  • In any case, the cameras shoot roughly every hour.

  • Some of them shoot every half hour, every 15 minutes, every five minutes.

  • Here's a time lapse of one of the time-lapse units being made.

  • (Laughter)

  • I personally obsessed about every nut, bolt and washer in these crazy things.

  • I spent half my life at our local hardware store

  • during the months when we built these units originally.

  • We're working in most of the major glaciated regions of the northern hemisphere.

  • Our time-lapse units are in Alaska, the Rockies, Greenland and Iceland,

  • and we have repeat photography positions,

  • that is places we just visit on an annual basis,

  • in British Columbia, the Alps and Bolivia.

  • It's a big undertaking. I stand here before you tonight

  • as an ambassador for my whole team.

  • There's a lot of people working on this right now.

  • We've got 33 cameras out this moment.

  • We just had 33 cameras shoot about half an hour ago

  • all across the northern hemisphere, watching what's happened.

  • And we've spent a lot of time in the field. It's been a fantastic amount of work.

  • We've been out for two and a half years,

  • and we've got about another two and a half years yet to go.

  • That's only half our job.

  • The other half of our job is to tell the story to the global public.

  • You know, scientists have collected this kind of information

  • off and on over the years, but a lot of it stays within the science community.

  • Similarly, a lot of art projects stay in the art community,

  • and I feel very much a responsibility through mechanisms like TED,

  • and like our relationship with the Obama White House,

  • with the Senate, with John Kerry, to influence policy

  • as much as possible with these pictures as well.

  • We've done films. We've done books. We have more coming.

  • We have a site on Google Earth

  • that Google Earth was generous enough to give us,

  • and so forth, because we feel very much the need to tell this story,

  • because it is such an immediate evidence of ongoing climate change right now.

  • Now, one bit of science before we get into the visuals.

  • If everybody in the developed world understood this graph,

  • and emblazoned it on the inside of their foreheads,

  • there would be no further societal argument about climate change

  • because this is the story that counts.

  • Everything else you hear is just propaganda and confusion.

  • Key issues: this is a 400,000 year record.

  • This exact same pattern is seen going back now

  • almost a million years before our current time.

  • And several things are important.

  • Number one: temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

  • go up and down basically in sync.

  • You can see that from the orange line and the blue line.

  • Nature naturally has allowed carbon dioxide to go up to 280 parts per million.

  • That's the natural cycle.

  • Goes up to 280 and then drops

  • for various reasons that aren't important to discuss right here.

  • But 280 is the peak.

  • Right now, if you look at the top right part of that graph,

  • we're at 385 parts per million.

  • We are way, way outside the normal, natural variability.

  • Earth is having a fever.

  • In the past hundred years, the temperature of the Earth

  • has gone up 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, .75 degrees Celsius,

  • and it's going to keep going up

  • because we keep dumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

  • At the rate of about two and a half parts per million per year.

  • It's been a remorseless, steady increase.

  • We have to turn that around.

  • That's the crux, and someday I hope to emblazon that

  • across Times Square in New York and a lot of other places.

  • But anyway, off to the world of ice.

  • We're now at the Columbia Glacier in Alaska.

  • This is a view of what's called the calving face.

  • This is what one of our cameras saw over the course of a few months.

  • You see the glacier flowing in from the right,

  • dropping off into the sea, camera shooting every hour.

  • If you look in the middle background,

  • you can see the calving face bobbing up and down like a yo-yo.

  • That means that glacier's floating and it's unstable,

  • and you're about to see the consequences of that floating.

  • To give you a little bit of a sense of scale,

  • that calving face in this picture

  • is about 325 feet tall. That's 32 stories.

  • This is not a little cliff. This is like a major office building in an urban center.

  • The calving face is the wall where the visible ice breaks off,

  • but in fact, it goes down below sea level another couple thousand feet.

  • So there's a wall of ice a couple thousand feet deep

  • going down to bedrock if the glacier's grounded on bedrock,

  • and floating if it isn't.

  • Here's what Columbia's done. This is in south central Alaska.

  • This was an aerial picture I did one day in June three years ago.

  • This is an aerial picture we did this year.

  • That's the retreat of this glacier.

  • The main stem, the main flow of the glacier is coming from the right

  • and it's going very rapidly up that stem.

  • We're going to be up there in just a few more weeks,

  • and we expect that it's probably retreated another half a mile,

  • but if I got there and discovered that it had collapsed

  • and it was five miles further back, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.

  • Now it's really hard to grasp the scale of these places,

  • because as the glaciers --

  • one of the things is that places like Alaska and Greenland are huge,

  • they're not normal landscapes --

  • but as the glaciers are retreating, they're also deflating,

  • like air is being let out of a balloon.

  • And so, there are features on this landscape.

  • There's a ridge right in the middle of the picture, up above where that arrow comes in,

  • that shows you that a little bit.

  • There's a marker line called the trim line

  • above our little red illustration there.

  • This is something no self-respecting photographer would ever do --

  • you put some cheesy illustration on your shot, right? --

  • and yet you have to do it sometimes to narrate these points.

  • But, in any case, the deflation of this glacier since 1984

  • has been higher than the Eiffel Tower, higher than the Empire State Building.

  • A tremendous amount of ice has been let out of these valleys

  • as it's retreated and deflated, gone back up valley.

  • These changes in the alpine world are accelerating.

  • It's not static.

  • Particularly in the world of sea ice,

  • the rate of natural change is outstripping predictions of just a few years ago,

  • and the processes either are accelerating

  • or the predictions were too low to begin with.

  • But in any case, there are big, big changes happening as we speak.

  • So, here's another time-lapse shot of Columbia.

  • And you see where it ended in these various spring days,

  • June, May, then October.

  • Now we turn on our time lapse.

  • This camera was shooting every hour.

  • Geologic process in action here.

  • And everybody says, well don't they advance in the winter time?

  • No. It was retreating through the winter because it's an unhealthy glacier.

  • Finally catches up to itself, it advances.

  • And you can look at these pictures over and over again

  • because there's such a strange, bizarre fascination in seeing

  • these things you don't normally get to see come alive.

  • We've been talking about "seeing is believing "

  • and seeing the unseen at TED Global.

  • That's what you see with these cameras.

  • The images make the invisible visible.

  • These huge crevasses open up.

  • These great ice islands break off --

  • and now watch this.

  • This has been the springtime this year --

  • a huge collapse. That happened in about a month,

  • the loss of all that ice.

  • So that's where we started three years ago,

  • way out on the left, and that's where we were a few months ago, the

  • last time we went into Columbia.

  • To give you a feeling for the scale of the retreat,

  • we did another cheesy illustration,

  • with British double-decker buses.

  • If you line up 295 of those nose to tail, that's about how far back that was.

  • It's a long way.

  • On up to Iceland.

  • One of my favorite glaciers, thelheimajökull.

  • And here, if you watch, you can see the terminus retreating.

  • You can see this river being formed.

  • You can see it deflating.

  • Without the photographic process, you would never see this. This is invisible.

  • You can stand up there your whole life and you would never see this,

  • but the camera records it.

  • So we wind time backwards now.

  • We go back a couple years in time.

  • That's where it started.

  • That's where it ended a few months ago.